St. Petersburg's Frank Strunk III, the well-known metal artist, has a tree-trunk torso, tattoos up and down his arms, red-head scruff on his face and a hairdo that conjures a bowed-up rooster. How he looks and what he makes seem somehow linked. His stern vibe is an almost imposing industrial aesthetic. But these days? Conversation with him gets most real when he talks about his dog. Michael Kruse, Times staff writer
I came down in '95 to rehab houses. Fixing and flipping. Ultimately it was creatively fruitless.
I was in a rough place, a thousand miles away from my home, and I'm more or less by myself, and then she showed up. She was a street dog. I'd be like, "Go home, go home. Why won't you go home?"
I paid for her shots and a bath. She was black and white after the vet cleaned her.
A very short time after that I realized we had this connection.
She just wanted to be with me. I didn't have to give her treats.
She wasn't going anywhere. Because she knows. We're together.
When you're a total solo entity like me — I don't have any helpers, I don't have any employees — but you have this little thing with you, this little, living thing . . .
She ran, young, fast and spry, super focused, amazing vision, as fast a little, agile critter as I've ever seen, every piece of her chasing something.
Love does keep civilization alive. It makes it worth it to keep waking up.
Every great piece of art was fueled by love.
Just by her presence. Her little breathing. Knowing your dog is asleep and your dog is dreaming.
It's just garbage metal. I burnish it. I polish it.
I want to make things that are beautiful out of things that are nothing.
Time is more important than money. Time is how life is measured. Money just makes it more comfortable.
But when I take my last breath, I'm not going to be thinking, "Man, I wish I'd paid my rent on time more often." How do you die with that piece still left in you? That's worth having a s----- credit score. That's worth having to eat bologna. Most people die with their music left inside them. Dreadful, right?
I don't think I'm a great artist. I think I have some great art in me.
Maybe I'll never make another piece of great art.
I'm 48. Past the halfway point.
I'm not the brawler I used to be.
You wear out.
Arthritis is what really did it to her. Her little spine. Her little legs. That's what did her in. She couldn't move around. She couldn't walk. Her two back feet were cold. No circulation. She'd fall over. She'd trip on grass. She couldn't lift up her feet. She had trouble eating and drinking. I'd carry her outside to go to the bathroom. I took her on walks in this Radio Flyer wagon with pillows. She'd watch people. But I could tell she felt like she was being paraded around a little bit. I could tell she didn't like it so much.
She was so sweet for so much of it.
I still grieve. Volumes of grief. Just spilling out of me at times.
If you're going through hell, keep going. Stride headlong into it. Bathe yourself in that deep gooey s--- that is grief. You're not immune to the human experience.
Pet dogs. Love people.
Write that novel. Build that sculpture.
Her departure has helped in that it's created a void that I need to address. It's the body of work I'm doing right now. The void after Mia will be as important to me as the time I spent with her. The absence of her is as real as the presence of her. So it's like: What do you do now?
Those contrasts are what make life perfect and beautiful.
But the grief is awful. These tears.
I was a clock puncher. It was brutal. I don't know if I would've stepped off the quantifiable world without her — if she wasn't there, when I leapt into the void, knowing that she was going to be next to me.
Wisdom is an occasional feature about an ordinary person with unusual insight. These are the person's exact words, organized for clarity and length. Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8751.